Your questions answered: F1 fuels and engines
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Mar 2012   |  12:58 pm GMT  |  19 comments

Last season on JA on F1 we brought you several features on F1 fuels and engines, as Ferrari’s partner Shell gave us behind-the-scenes insight into areas ranging from the mixing of fuels for an F1 race car and the management of the engine health process.

While shedding light on many aspects of these two key areas of car performance, it became clear by reading through the comments section on the site that many questions remained. So, with this in mind, we collated the best of your questions and went back to Shell and Ferrari who together took the time to answer below on topics ranging from warming an F1 engine to the impact a crash has on the life of a V8 power unit…


Question from Nando: Can you explain further how Shell’s technical partnership with Ferrari falls into the resources restriction agreement? Shell clearly work very closely with Ferrari – is this something that would be done by other fuel suppliers with other teams also?

The current RRA only applies to the chassis. At the moment there is no such agreement in place regarding engines. However, it’s obvious that the development of fuel and/or oil is not controlled by this agreement as it concerns an engine development.


Question from Grayzee (Australia): Is it true that F1 engines need to be externally warmed up before they can be started in the car? Does the temperature of the fuel have much effect on this process?

The engine is not warmed up externally, but the internal parts are heated simply by circulating hot water through the system using a special external pump. The heat thus transferred from the hot water reaches all parts. The temperature of the fuel doesn’t really have any effect on this process.


Question from Jonathan Lodge: [Following on from a previous question] Can you explain further how the engines are heated pre-start when in “Parc Ferme” and how this process is different from Friday/Saturday practice sessions – does this have anything to do with allowing cars to be back in their garages and covered by CCTV on Saturday nights is partly to allow the engines to be kept warm overnight?

Formula One cars are deemed to be parc ferme conditions between the first qualifying session on the Saturday until the start of the race on Sunday, this is to prevent any unauthorised work or modifications being carried out on the car without FIA approval. Under parc ferme conditions (apart from when the cars are actually in parc ferme – from 3.5 hours after qualifying until 5 hours before the formation lap) only strictly specified routine procedures are allowed.  However, the list of allowed procedures includes starting engines, draining engine oil etc. So actually the normal engine start-up procedures can be carried out at these times. In that sense, a Sunday start-up is no different to any other time during the race weekend. The reason that cars are now allowed to return to their garages for parc ferme is not to do with keeping the engines warm, but rather because of practical reasons and the fact that CCTV can monitor the cars all night to check that no unauthorised work is done.


Question from Jonathan Lodge: Please can you tell me a little more about caring for the engine if the car crashes or is forced to stop on the circuit and how this affects the longevity of the engine itself? Does the extreme heating and fast cooling in this situation mean it cannot be used again?

Obviously the situation will vary a lot depending on the circumstances, and there is no one correct answer to this question! It is probably fair to say that typical crashes rarely damage the core of the engine which is quite robust – and damage to the engine in this situation is more likely to come from overheating rather than physical damage sustained in a collision (fast cooling is never really an issue). Unlike regular production cars, F1 cars have no cooling fans and rely on the airflow over the car to cool the radiators which are mounted in the side pods. Therefore, when the car isn’t moving there isn’t any airflow – hence limited cooling! That is why you will often see teams using portable cooling machines (sometimes known as leaf blowers) to keep the engine cool when the car is stationary at the start line, or just after the race has finished in parc ferme.

Obviously these pieces of equipment are not always available if a car crashes, however it doesn’t automatically mean that the engine cannot be used again – that will be dependent on a lot of factors. When a car stops because of an engine failure rather than a crash this often means that engine can never be used again, and another engine from the allowed FIA allocation must be used.
Heat soak, an unexpected increase in temperature when there’s a sudden stop, is dangerous for an engine that is running, for example at a pit stop. In the case of an accident, when the engine is immediately switched off, this is a not really a problem. The temperature reached is never enough to alter the mechanical characteristics of the components.


Question from CGM: Is there any particular, discernible difference between the fuel that Shell provides to Ferrari compared to that which other suppliers provide to the different teams? Is this difference “quantifiable” in terms of engine life or lap times?

One of the key differences between regular Shell V-Power gasoline and the Shell V-Power racing fuel we provide to Ferrari is that even though the fuels are blended using the same base fuel chemistries, or ingredients, the racing fuel is highly optimized and fine-tuned for use in the Ferrari Formula One car.  That means that the best fuel for the Ferrari F1 engine might not necessarily be the best fuel for the (for example) Cosworth engine, and vice versa.

Shell do not test competitor race fuels, just as we keep our fuels extremely confidential, however for these reasons it might not be a meaningful result even if you did. Success in F1 is about optimizing many thousands of different parts and components together (including the fuel), to give the most competitive package overall. This long-standing relationship is certainly an advantage that other manufactures do not have. We are constantly working to deliver new fuel formulations with improved performance – and in these cases we can quantify the difference though data around the power and fuel .


Question from Conor: Can you explain further the limitations/compromises involved with using the more economical fuel and how these affect races?

The challenge in fuel formulation is finding the optimized balance of a range of performance parameters.  Obviously optimizing for power is a priority – but there isn’t too much point in doing this if you have to compromise too much in terms of fuel efficiency. There are also two types of fuel efficiency that we talk about, volumetric fuel efficiency (when the fuel is designed to give the best performance based on volume) and gravimetric fuel efficiency (where the fuel is designed to give the best performance based on mass).

You may have certain circuits which are marginal in terms of fuel tank capacity, in these cases maximising power and volumetric fuel efficiency is key. At other circuits the fuel tank size will not be a constraint, therefore gravimetric fuel efficiency (i.e. reducing the weight of the system) along with power will be the most important properties.  Ferrari carry out extensive modeling and engine testing in Maranello with the candidate Shell V-Power racing fuels that we provide them, and that way we know that the best overall fuel is selected for each circuit.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

How does the fuel tank combat the g force during a turn? I.E. how does the design keep the fuel flowin into the sump, despite the force?

rob in victoria bc

Don’t thank me, I couldn’t figure it out either, until I realised that if water can be used to cool the engine, surely you must be able to use it to heat as well.

rob in victoria bc

This might get us a little closer, regarding heating the engine prior to engine start:


Many thanks for that Rob, 🙂


Thanks for this. I absolutely love the engineering side of F1 and there can’t be too much detail for my liking.

The answer about engine warming raised more questions than it answered.

For example – The hot water that is pumped through the “system” – is that the engine’s internals? Surely not as you can’t risk having water in the engine?

If it was, how can you ensure that the water is evacuated after the procedure? Sorry, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how that would work.


I presume that this means hot water would be pumped through the cooling system, radiators and so on. I can’t see anyone wanting to put water in the oil system.

Although I remember on Top Gear they mentioned that they pre-heat the oil too.

If they don’t pre-warm the engine, it would not turn over when they try to start it, because the tolerances are so small.


Do the other teams that have oil company sponsors also go to these lengths over fuel?


Absolutely. Mobil do similar testing for both McLaren and Force India.



Do you know (or can you find out) when was/what was the last F1 engine to use either a timing belt chain or gears to operate the valve train etc????


It would be interesting to know how Shell and other fuel providers tackle the weather factor. Is there any special blend for moist or dry weather. How these affect engine performance. Also, altitude, do they formulate special blends to compensate loss of horsepower? And finally, is there a different blend or formulation if it’s an old engine?

I would appreciate any light on these topics.

Good job James!


A good insight. Thanks for doing this!


Great article James. You’re doing a great job, it’s finding out about stuff like this that makes formula 1 even more interesting!


Great info!

Suggestion for next topic. Charlie Whiting was talking about restrictions to the wheel guns in an interview on the Formula 1 Website. It’d be nice to hear what teams will do about their nuts now.


LMAO Legend


Interesting article James, but it makes me wonder, what fuel Sauber and Toro Rosso use? is it a big disadvantage if they don´t use Shell?


Good question, don’t know. We’ll look into that


They talk about warming up the engine and also keeping it cool between quali sessions or at the start of the race.

But what happens during a red flag? For example in Canada last year, the engines must have need to be cooled down at first, but then after a while, did teams have to change and actually heat up the engine to keep it warm enough to start up when the race was going to restart?


Nice post but the title “How do you start an F1 engine?” isn’t actually answered. I’d be interested to know the answer to that…

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